Heat is not the only hazard to outdoor workers in California


How much do you know about Valley Fever? It is an illness caused by Coccidioides immitis fungus spores, which are present in the soil of California and other southwestern states. If your work outdoors involves any disturbance of the soil, you might not even be aware of the airborne spores that you inhale along with dust and dirt blown by the wind.

Valley Fever symptoms are similar to those of pneumonia or bronchitis and are often misdiagnosed. Even though the symptoms are flu-like, the illness is not contagious, but left untreated, it could be quite dangerous.

Symptoms of Valley Fever

The risk of Valley Fever is higher from June through November, and a visit to your physician would be advisable if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Joint pains
  • Fatigue

Although it is a fungal disease, it doesn’t spread in the way that the fungus that causes athletes foot spreads.

Are you at risk?

If disturbing of soil occurs where you work, it will increase the risk of infection by the Coccidioides immitis fungus spores. Workers in the following occupations are at the highest risk:

  • Construction workers
  • Road construction workers
  • Geologists
  • Archeologists
  • Mining workers
  • Wildland firefighters
  • Gas and oil field workers
  • Installers of solar panels
  • Agricultural workers
  • Landscapers and garden services

Take note that you could have Valley Fever without showing any symptoms.

Prevalence of Valley Fever

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 58,000 cases of Valley Fever were reported from 2012 through 2016. However, 60% of those cases showed no symptoms and almost 40% had only mild symptoms. A small percentage of people are at risk of serious complications.

If you have a compromised health condition, the fungus can disseminate throughout your body and infect other organs. Without treatment, the illness can progress to infections of your joints and bones, or it can cause pneumonia or meningitis. If you do not treat any of those conditions, it could be fatal. A proper diagnosis may be difficult if your doctor is unaware of your occupation.

Precautions to take

You can limit the risk of contracting Valley Fever in the following ways:

  • Avoid known high-risk areas
  • Minimize exposure on particularly windy days
  • Use approved air filters in enclosed cabs of equipment
  • Be particularly careful if you already have preexisting health conditions
  • Use soil watering or other measures to control dust
  • Wash appropriately before eating, drinking or smoking

You can even carry the spores home and risk your family’s health if you do not wash and change your clothes at the end of your work shift.

Workers’ compensation

If you contract Valley Fever, you can file a workers’ compensation claim. The benefits will cover your medical expenses and a portion of your lost wages. Many California workers choose to focus on recovering and getting back to work while an experienced workers’ compensation attorney navigates the complicated benefits claims process for them.

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